This is a very basic arc of popular white feminism in the US: first wave, second wave, and third wave feminism. I’m still waiting on tidal wave feminism that destroys the whole of patriarchy in its path. But aren’t we all. The first wave starts with white women like Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin in the 1800s, then the second wave washes up with white women like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, then an intervention happens between the second and third waves… WOC feminists like Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, and Barbara Smith bring queer and racial politics to a white-dominated movement. The white supremacy in mainstream feminism was finally called out, yet the legacy lives on.
Individual freedom and/or liberation has been and continues to be at the heart of white feminism, ranging anywhere from the freedom to vote to the freedom to wear underwear in public and not be called a “sl*t.” Like most rights and private liberty discourses in the US, liberation often translates to individuals having the power to do whatever the fuck they want. But who has the privilege to do whatever they want with a considerable amount of public safety? Who has institutional power while they exploit the social freedom of never having been reduced to a stereotype that results in oppression, violence, and death? Whether it’s a white woman wearing dreadlocks, wearing a bindi, wearing a sari, wearing a war bonnet, wearing a burqa, or getting “tribal” tattoos worn by Indigenous Filipino peoples, the only “freedom” we have is in damaging and disrespecting the cultural expressions of the women and people of color to whom these expressions belong.
We white folks are all about private property and ownership, and we have been ever since the days of chattel slavery when we owned human beings as property. European whites + capitalism + racism = slave trade, colonization, genocide. Could it be our persistent dehumanization of POC that compels us to never see cultural objects, traditions, and garments as the private property of POC? When we affirm our own “humanity” through the “freedom” of stealing from women and people of color, we devalue the humanity of those from which we steal (otherwise known as racism). For those of you that might raise the argument “but white women became the property of white men through marriage,” think of it this way: even though you may not have been alive back then, there was certainly a huge difference between working the fields of a plantation and sipping tea on the porch of a plantation mansion in silk stockings. White women were never sold and traded in chains through public auctions, and neither were their children.
In the picture below is Lady GaGa, only one contemporary example of cultural appropriation and white supremacy in mainstream feminism. Women with white skin appropriate clothing for maybe five minutes—the significance being that they “appreciate it”—and do not live in this clothing for most of their lives. Famous white women who appropriate clothing make it that much easier for their fans to act like none of what Muslim women experience matters. This is a hideous example of white feminism because it serves the interests, privileges, and liberties of white women exclusively; this is not feminism that supports and empowers the WOC being devalued, dehumanized, and dismissed by cultural theft.
Here’s a simple list of reasons why white women should never do this kind of shit:
*If you are not a member of a group that traditionally and historically wears these garments, there is never a good reason to wear something that is not socially or culturally relevant to you.
*Mocking Islam by taking something worn for religious purposes and wearing it for Western entertainment will only benefit racist ideas and racist culture.
*If feminism is for the good of all women, then white women who oppress ‘others’ for their own empowerment are not practicing feminism. They are practicing white feminism.
*Stealing a cultural and religious garment for the sake of performance is cultural appropriation. If it is not your daily experience as a white person, it should never be your costume.
*White women do not encounter racism, oppression, or Islamophobia (the social fear and racial hatred of Islam) when they wear cultural garments that do not belong to them.
*Only white people can take something from another culture and make it “fashionable” while experiencing none of the violence POC endure.
*white privilege is having fun with racist stereotypes.
*The argument in defense of Lady GaGa that says “equality is anyone being able to wear anything they want,” really boils down to “white people can steal anything they want from POC and should be able to wear it without consequences.”